I was up before dawn reading about autumn bulbs. If you are a real gardener (I’m ashamed to admit that most of the time I am reading about gardens and gardening more than I am actually digging in the dirt), you are thinking of bulbs this time of year. Lately I have been spending time with the real gardener Katharine S. White. Her book Onward and Upward in The Garden is a collection of essays that she (a beloved editor at The New Yorker) wrote between 1959 and 1970, many of them after she retired. The book was published posthumously by her husband, E.B. White (yes, of Charlotte’s Web).
“The swamp maple flashes its red danger signal, and it’s time now for the gardener to make plans for the house plants that will bring the garden indoors this winter and to order the bulbs that must go into the ground in October and November if the outdoor garden is to come to life again next spring,” she says in her essay titled After the Frost—and then, in true essayistic style, she meanders a bit, discussing houseplants, and fellow garden writers whom she admires (Elizabeth Lawrence for one), and her absolute love of natural clay pots and disdain for plastic ones.
One cannot help but be fascinated by (and slightly in awe of) a woman who gardened in her street clothes (we are talking about a time when street clothes meant something different than sweatpants), handled cut flowers roughly when arranging them for her home (she felt they could take it), and who absolutely refused to provide artificial light for her houseplants (again, we are talking about a time when this was very much in vogue). About this unnatural environment she says, “The furthest I will go is to move a budding amaryllis under a reading lamp on a dark day.”